St. John had a vision of heavenly liturgy in which all creatures in heaven and on earth, angels and men, were constantly praising and worshipping the risen and glorified Christ, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing…To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Rev 5:12,13).
It is thus clear that heaven is far from a state of self-centered enjoyment. On the contrary, all in heaven are focused on God, living for Him and finding all their joy and delight in doing so. With God as the central focus of all heavenly creatures, they all enjoy perfect and unceasing happiness.
This truth has grave implications for our earthly life. It implies that everything that we do and enjoy in heaven begins here on earth. No truly good, true, and beautiful thing begins in heaven. All truly good things begin here on earth and are fulfilled and perfected in heaven. Praising, worshipping, contemplating, serving God, and rejoicing in Him must begin here on earth if we are ever going to hope to experience the face-to-face glory and joy of heaven.
St. Peter teaches us that Christ died and rose from the dead to bring us to share in His eternal worship of the Father in heaven, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us back to God.”(1Pet 3:18)
But our risen Lord cannot lead us to heaven if we choose to live only for ourselves in this life, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) We must consciously choose to focus on Him now and live for Him alone if He is going to bring us into His own heavenly liturgy.
The risen Christ appeared repeatedly to His disciples in many ways to bring them to live for Him alone in preparation for heavenly glory. The revelation of the risen Christ and the response of the disciples show us five concrete ways in which we are to live for Him today in preparation for our glorious union with Him in heaven.
Firstly, our hearts must be filled with love for the risen Lord Jesus. There are so many questions that the risen Lord could have asked Peter at the Sea of Tiberias. He could have asked him, “After professing your unwavering loyalty to me, why did you abandon me in the garden of Gethsemane and then deny me three times later?” “What in the world are you doing here fishing? Haven’t I already called you from fishing to become a fisher of men?”
There were no such questions to evoke regret or fear in Peter. His first and only question to Peter was, “Do you love me?” Peter cannot live for Jesus until he has answered that question honestly from his heart. We too cannot live for Him if our hearts are filled with and controlled by other loves. It is our love for Jesus that makes us constant and generous in doing and enduring all things for Him.
Secondly, we must show our love for Him in action by serving others. Jesus does not settle for a sentimental love expressed in words alone but one that serves others out of love for Him. He then said to Peter, “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” If we are truly living for Him, we shall see each other as members of Christ’s flock, persons “which He (Christ) obtained with His own blood.”(Acts 20:28) How can we hope to have perfect fellowship with the saints in heaven when we are completely aloof and insensitive to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of our brethren here on earth?
Thirdly, we show that we live for Him by obeying Him always. Souls that live for Christ alone are not deterred by the cost or consequences of their obedience to Him.Despite the many threats and warnings of the Sanhedrin not to proclaim the risen Christ, the disciples boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
No matter how much we may claim to live for Him, we are actually living for ourselves when we are choosing which commandments to keep and when we are going to keep them. We are living for ourselves when we sheepishly follow the worldly norms of human conduct and disregard God’s commandments. Remember the unconditional words of Jesus, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”(Jn 14:15) How can we hope to enter into heavenly worship when we are compromising, disregarding, disobeying, and even trying to alter God’s words here on earth?
Fourthly, we must be ready to embrace the suffering and sacrifices that come our way in life because He freely chose to suffer and sacrifice Himself for us. Jesus does not only call Peter to serve out of love but to also embrace the suffering and death for His sake, “He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God”(Jn 21:19). Peter and the Apostles showed that they were now living for Christ by their reaction to their persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, “The disciples left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41). We know that we are preparing for heavenly joy when we can find joy in suffering something for the sake of Christ here on earth.
Lastly, we must begin to worship God with humility because He is the source of everything that we are and have. We do not worship God simply to get something from Him or out of mere routine. Our worship must show our deep gratitude and complete dependence on Him in this life and in death. This is the worship that will be perfected in heaven.
St. John described the heavenly liturgy thus: “The four living creatures answered, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.”(Rev 5:14) The saints and angels worship God constantly in heaven. What about us on earth? Are we worshipping Him in good and in bad times? If we are not offering constant and selfless worship to Him now on earth, how can we hope to join the angels and the saints in His perfect worship of heaven?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the most important thing for us as Christians in this life is to enter heaven and to help others to enter heaven too. This earthly life is a dress rehearsal for the perfect worship of heaven. In short, heaven begins for us here on earth when we actually begin to live for Christ alone. Hell also begins for us on earth now when we live for ourselves alone.
The Eucharist remains the arena of our earthly participation in the heavenly liturgy. This is where the risen Christ meets us and brings us to live for Him and for others just as He did. Our true communion with God begins here and on earth and is deepened at each Eucharist. Jesus deepens our communion with Him because He always desires to lead us to the perfect worship in our heavenly home.
If we are ever going to rejoice with Him, worship Him, serve Him, and praise Him forever in heaven, then let us begin today to focus on Him and live for Him alone, and not for ourselves.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Image: Dome in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, with the fresco “The Assumption of Our Lady Into the Glories of Paradise” by Giovanni Lanfranco. Rome, Italy. October-15-2018. Shutterstock: essevu